LUSAIL, Qatar — Goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez saved Argentina from elimination in the World Cup and defeated Mexico 2-0 on Saturday in Group C.
In front of 88,966 fans at Lusail Stadium, the match was at first a nervy one with plenty of fouls but a lack of opportunities from either side. Then, in the second half, Messi opened up the scoresheet with an inch-perfect opportunity in the 64th minute that put the South Americans up 1-0.
In the 87th minute, Fernandez sealed the 2-0 result with a beautiful shot that sneaked past Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
1. Argentina bounce back with first win to keep World Cup hopes alive
After a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their first match of the group stage, Argentina could not lose against Mexico and responded with a significant result at Lusail Stadium.
Initially running into hurdles with El Tri‘s defensive gameplan through a 5-3-2 formation, Messi eventually pounced on a shot in the second half that set the Lusail Stadium into a frenzy. El Tri appeared rattled after the goal, leaving an inevitable chance later on for Fernandez to make it 2-0 in the dying moments.
The result is much more than just the three points gained. Had Argentina lost, the title-contenders would have earned a shocking early exit from the World Cup in the group stage. Most importantly, Messi would have also gone home empty-handed after previously noting that this would be his last World Cup.
For now, the hopes of Argentina’s sporting nation live on.
2. Martino’s tactical experiment for Mexico falls short
Mexico manager Tata Martino raised a few eyebrows when he decided to ditch his usual 4-3-3 formation and instead go with a 5-3-2 against Argentina.
The strategy of putting more numbers in defense seemed to at first frustrate La Albiceleste, who needed just a bit of time to figure it out. By the second half, however, Argentina put Mexico on the ropes with goals from Messi and Fernandez, leaving El Tri with a more worrisome path to the knockout round.
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Now, even if Mexico defeats Saudi Arabia in the final game of the group stage, Martino and his men will also need to hope that the score of the Poland-Argentina works in their favor.
Had El Tri earned just a draw vs. Argentina on Saturday, they would have then only needed three points against Saudi Arabia, and not needed to rely on the other result.
3. After quiet start, Messi emerges a hero
Where is Messi? That was the question many were asking coming into Saturday’s game and even during the first half — but he was there at the Lusail Stadium, scoring one of the most important goals for Argentina so far in the 2022 World Cup.
Playing with the eagerness of and drive of someone who didn’t want his swan song to end in the group stage, the superstar was brilliant with his movement and goal in the second half. Then minutes before the end of regulation time, the No. 10 would emerge once again with an assist for Fernandez.
Messi and his team still have plenty of work to do in the group stage, but it’ll be a huge relief from supporters to see him scoring again and providing an assist in Qatar.
Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa 5, Kevin Alvarez 6, Nestor Araujo 5, Cesar Montes 6, Hector Moreno 5, Jesus Gallardo 5, Hector Herrera 6, Andres Guardado 7, Luis Chavez 6, Hirving Lozano 6, Alexis Vega 6
Subs: Erick Gutierrez 6, Raul Jimenez 6, Uriel Antuna 6, Roberto Alvarado 5
Argentina: Emiliano Martinez 7, Gonzalo Montiel 6, Nicolas Otamendi 7, Lisandro Martinez 7, Marcos Acuna 7, Rodrigo de Paul 6, Guido Rodriguez 7, Angel Di Maria 7, Lionel Messi 9, Alexis Mac Allister 7, Lautaro Martinez 6
Subs: Enzo Fernandez 8, Julian Alvarez 7, Nahuel Molina 7, Cristian Romero 7, Exequiel Palacios 6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Lionel Messi, Argentina
Goal, assist and the deserved winner of the Man of the Match: the global superstar is the reason why Argentina are still fighting for a spot in the knockout round.
WORST: Jesus Gallardo, Mexico
The wing-back looked overwhelmed when Argentina roamed onto his area of his defense and often had no issues making their way past him. Going forward, he didn’t provide much.
Highlights and notable moments
There were not any highlights or notable moments in the first half.
Don’t believe us? There were only three shots total (one for Argentina, two for Mexico) and the expected goals, or xG, was the lowest in a half at the 2022 World Cup yet. Mexico only registered a 0.07 xG and Argentina did even worse with 0.05.
The second half seemed to be plodding along in the same manner until out of seemingly nowhere, Lionel Messi found the back of the net for Argentina.
We cannot stress enough how little was happening for other side in the attack, and how Messi just turned and fired in a split second from well outside the box and somehow managed to place it perfectly. That was the goal that saved Argentina’s World Cup.
Where is Messi?
Messi is HERE 🐐🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/XpxXYpBR0p
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 26, 2022
With Argentina up 1-0, the game state changed — everything opened up and Argentina was suddenly on the front foot.
Enzo Fernandez dashed any hopes for Mexico of a comeback with a sensational curling strike from the inside corner of the box. It was a beauty to put Argentina up 2-0.
🔥 ¡QUE GOLAAAAAZ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️!
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) November 26, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Argentina’s Lionel Messi on the result: “After the goal, we became again who we are. So, it’s great — we needed this result, we needed this euphoria in this game that we had to win.”
Messi on the game changing: “…Everything came down to two single plays. We knew that today we had to win, that another World Cup started for us and we knew what to do. We cannot let our guard down now.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Messi has scored 13 goals for Argentina in 2022, his most ever in a calendar year. (Next best: 12 goals in 2012.)
Messi has scored in six straight for Argentina, tying his longest scoring streak for the Albiceleste (from November 2011 to September 2012).
At 21 years and 313 days old, Fernandez is the youngest player to score for Argentina at the World Cup since Messi in 2006 vs. Serbia and Montenegro (18 years and 358 days old).
Mexico: One game remains in Group C for El Tri, and they will face Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. ET, which will determine if Mexico advances to the knockout round or not. El quinto partido (a coveted, long-await fifth game in the quarterfinals) hangs in the balance — they need to reach el cuarto (the fourth match) first.
Argentina: Likewise, La Albiceleste finish up Group C against Poland on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. ET. Now that they didn’t lose to Mexico, a shot at the knockout round is still in play for Argentina.